​What It Was Really Like To Be A Teen Mom

It doesn't feel like 23 years have passed since I got my first positive pregnancy test. Despite how long it's been, I can still think back to those early days and remember exactly how I felt. I was so scared and confused. I felt guilty any time I felt a little excitement. I knew that the circumstances were terrible, but part of me wanted to, at least, try to find happiness in the moment.

I had never even kissed a boy before the day that I lost my virginity. I hadn't had conversations about birth control or safe sex because, although my grandmother raised me in an extremely loving home, she was also very religious. The advice I had been given was pretty simple – don't have sex.

And I had obeyed.

It wasn't that hard for me, really. I was so focused on doing well in school and playing sports that I managed to avoid the dating traps that many of my classmates were facing. I did, however, have a thing for my neighbor. He was a year older so I didn't see him much in the hallways, but I'd find myself staring at the window every time he practiced with a soccer ball in his front yard. Before long, I would hear a door slam and I'd run to see if he was riding off on a bike or heading to play basketball. I didn't know it yet, but I had a serious crush.

How it happened

It was the Fourth of July. People were lighting fireworks, the mood was festive, and our whole street was having a party. All of the kids had filled balloons with water and, while I usually kept to myself, I decided to join in the fun when I saw him out there. An hour later, completely soaked, we ran up to my bathroom in search of towels. My grandmother trusted me so much that she didn\'t say a word when we decided to listen to music in my room. To be honest, the idea that I was about to have sex for the first time never even entered my mind so she was right to trust me – she was just wrong about trusting teenagers and hormones.

I was stunned when he kissed me but I was also completely enamored. I felt guilty for a moment but then all of the months of stalking this guy from my window pushed any doubts aside. I didn\'t know exactly what was going to happen but I was okay with it – all of it. Without thinking about anything else, I succumbed to the moment.

It wasn\'t until after he went home that I even thought about anything practical or rational and, even then, I was more consumed with thoughts about our relationship status than the possibility that I was pregnant.

I was so young and naïve, I really didn\'t even recognize the signs until a friend\'s mother commented on how tired I looked. She asked me a few questions and then went out to buy a home pregnancy test. We didn\'t have to wait long for the results — the test was positive the second it I peed on it and my world turned completely upside down. An exam confirmed that I was already 17 weeks pregnant and everything changed overnight.

I had to do it all alone

Shaking and terrified, I approached the father of my baby with extreme trepidation. We had fooled around a few more times but he made it clear that he wasn\'t ready for a relationship. That was the understatement of the year!

Not only was he uninterested in formally dating me, he didn\'t want to admit to ever having slept with me. Suddenly, I was involved in the most embarrassing kind of \"he said/she said\" moment and our friends were divided. People didn\'t know who to believe and I was left dealing with the pregnancy alone.

Fortunately, a young couple moved in next door with their toddler. The woman had been a teen mother herself and she took me under her wing. She accompanied me to my appointments, she went with me to Lamaze, and she was there when my daughter was born.

The father did call to speak with me after I gave birth, while I was still in the hospital. My heart was pounding when I heard his voice and I was cautiously optimistic. Unfortunately, he was just calling to let me know that he would not be signing her birth certificate and asked me to stop telling people that she was his daughter. I looked down at her little face and all I could do was cry as I hung up the phone.

Some friends and their parents dumped me

More than two decades ago, it wasn\'t uncommon for schools to ask teen mothers to find other ways of being educated. I was assigned a home tutor who oversaw my work and, suddenly, despite having been a great student, I wasn\'t welcomed in the classroom. A school nurse explained that they didn\'t want other young girls being influenced by my bad behavior.

It felt so strange to no longer be going to school, while the father of my baby freely roamed the halls (and dated other girls in the process!). During this time, I noticed that some of my friends stopped returning my phone calls and never stopped by to see me. When I called to find out what was going on, some of their parents explained that they didn\'t want their children associating with me anymore, and asked me to stop calling. At such an early stage in life, during an extremely vulnerable time, I learned the value of true friendship — and the pain of exclusion.

Fortunately, there were people who wanted to support me. My real friends pooled their money and bought me a crib, mattress, change table, diaper bag, and clothes for my baby. Their parents allowed them to hold a baby shower for me despite all of the drama. They recognized that I needed help and encouragement and I will be grateful to them for the rest of my life. That\'s why today, 23 years later, these people are still among my closest friends.

I dealt with stares and judgment

My pregnancy didn\'t show until I was in my last trimester and, even then, I didn\'t really \"pop\" until three weeks before my due date. Therefore, I was able to hide my condition from strangers for a while. Still, when I went to the Lamaze class or checkups with my female friend as my companion, I was met with everything ranging from mild curiosity to outright disdain. It made me hate going out in public sometimes.

One particularly hurtful memory was when I was heavily pregnant and riding on a bus. There were no seats available and I was trying to hold onto anything to remain upright as we navigated through bumpy roads. Someone finally (mercifully!) offered me their seat.

As I made my way over, an older woman loudly said: \"Why does she deserve a seat? She shouldn\'t be pregnant in the first place! Don\'t they teach you kids how to use condoms?\" Rather than turn around and say something to defend myself, I gratefully sat and stared out the window so that no one could see the tears streaming down my face. It was a truly painful moment.

People lacked confidence in me

Just like any woman expecting for the first time, I didn\'t have any experience. Yes, I was young, but I was also intelligent and informed. I asked questions at my doctors\' appointments, I read books and magazines, and I attended Lamaze and parenting classes. Most importantly, though, despite my young age, I believed in myself.

It was a good thing that I had some sort of confidence in my abilities, because very few people did. My grandmother was a constant source of encouragement, but it felt like everywhere I went, someone said something to try to deflate me.

This only worsened after my daughter was born. I have always been a bit of a hands-off mother in many ways. I believe in giving a child structure and affection, while allowing them to explore the world and learn their own limits. To some, this looked like lazy parenting and they didn\'t hesitate to share their opinion. Years later, I see the self-motivated woman my daughter has become and I\'m glad I trusted my instincts!

My carefree teenage years were over

It didn\'t take long for reality to sink in after I gave birth. While this is true for any new parent, it can be especially sobering for a teenager to realize that they no longer have any free time. Even taking a shower required some planning!

While my friends were going to football games and seeing the newest blockbusters, I was at home caring for an infant. A particularly fussy infant, if I may add. The first six months were pretty difficult, especially since I lived right across from her father. I\'d see him coming and going without ever having to think about childcare, and I\'d get angry sometimes. Other times, I\'d just feel sorry for myself.

Fortunately, those days didn\'t last very long and my good friends found ways to give me a break. Once when my daughter was teething and she hadn\'t slept in days, a few of them brought sleeping bags and stayed with me for two nights. We took turns rocking her and making up songs to try to get her to sleep. It\'s a different sort of memory than most people have of their teen years, but I still get tears in my eyes thinking about how grateful I was for the laughs and support during those tough days!

I had to defend my choices every day

Whether things were going smoothly or I was having a tough day, someone would find a way to bring up the fact that my life could have been easier if I had made different choices. The constant barrage of comments and questions left me exhausted all of the time.

Why would I sleep with someone that I wasn\'t even dating? Why hadn\'t I used protection? Why did he insist he wasn\'t my child\'s father? Why hadn\'t I considered an abortion? Didn\'t I realize that some loving couple would have gladly adopted my daughter? It was as if people didn\'t realize I questioned myself all the time!

In those early years, I spent a lot of energy explaining myself in hopes of gaining the approval of others. Over time, I realized that nothing I said or did would change their opinion so I stopped responding. Eventually, these discussions came to an end because they knew I no longer felt the need to defend myself.

I had to rely on social assistance for a time

There are a lot of opinions out there about the kinds of people who apply for social assistance. Most of them are negative. For that reason, I was extremely ashamed to admit that I needed help. In the end, I had to make some tough decisions.

I knew that, in order to work full time, I would have had to drop out of school. I also knew that, even if I worked 40 hours a week, the kind of job I\'d get without a high school diploma would never be enough to give my daughter the life she deserved.

So I compromised.

I applied for any benefits that would help cover the cost of food and daycare for my baby so that I could continue my education. I knew that relying on social assistance for a short time would allow me to become a fully contributing tax-payer in the future and that this was the only way to truly improve my situation.

Over the years, I have been grateful for the small amount of assistance I have received and have volunteered my time in order to help others who have found themselves in similar situations. There is no shame in needing temporary help as you transition through a difficult time in your life. When your circumstances improve, pay it forward!

I was surprised by total strangers

While I had come to accept the scorn and judgment of those around me, I also learned that the world is full of beautiful people. I never asked for special treatment — I knew that my circumstances were a direct result of my own choices — so I was always surprised when someone would go out of their way to show me kindness.

One time when I was struggling with my daughter, trying to get her stroller up the stairs in a subway station, two young guys ran to my aid and carried the whole thing to the top. Without really waiting for me to thank them, they just smiled and waved as they continued on their way. I was so used to people telling me that I deserved to suffer that I literally stood there for 30 seconds in total disbelief – and then I started crying. I was so grateful for that small amount of help!

Another time, when my daughter was rolling around on the floor wailing in Sears because I wouldn\'t buy her a Sailor Moon puzzle, I crouched down and kissed her on the forehead, told her I loved her, and said I\'d be ready to go whenever she was done having a tantrum. Inside, I was shaking from embarrassment, but I knew that I had to keep my cool. Yelling at her or trying to drag her out of the store was just going to make things worse.

A woman who had been watching me came over and gave me a hug. She told me I was doing a good job and then walked away. Even my daughter stopped crying. It was the first and only time she had a public meltdown. Maybe my approach, combined with this stranger\'s approval, made an impact. I won\'t ever know but I like to think that\'s the reason why!

It is possible to be successful and happy

It\'s no secret that the odds are stacked against teen moms. In 2014, nearly 250,000 babies were born to mothers between the ages of 15-19. Despite the fact that this number is a historic low, the rate of teen pregnancy in the United States is significantly higher than anywhere else in the industrialized western world. Statistics show that becoming a parent is the \"leading reason why teen girls drop out of school.\" Even more sobering is the fact that fewer than 2% of these young mothers \"earn a college degree by age 30.\"

I may not have known the statistics back then, but I knew that creating a good life for my daughter wasn\'t going to be easy. I also knew that, to have a chance at all, I had to believe in my ability to be successful — no matter what anyone else said.

In the end, I relied on myself and set small goals. Some days, I just focused on surviving. I refused to give in to self-pity, and I used my hardships (such as not having a fridge for my first full year on my own!) to motivate me to work harder. Instead of letting my situation define me, I found ways to accomplish what, some said, was impossible.

I searched for scholarships that could help me on my journey. I stayed up late doing homework after putting my daughter to bed. I made it my mission in life to get an education and, by putting one foot in front of the other, I made my way all the way to graduate school.

Being a teen mom was definitely one of the hardest things I\'ve ever had to face. Despite the rejection, judgment, and criticism, I was able to create a pretty good life for myself by making my daughter my highest priority.

Today, rather than feeling shame and remorse, I am proud of all I have accomplished but I\'m even prouder of the young woman my daughter has become. She\'s a hard-working college graduate with a strong head on her shoulders and I get to enjoy being her proud mother — while everyone thinks we look more like sisters. Sometimes, you\'ve just got to find the silver linings!